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Senate averts nationwide strike by US rail workers

By AI HEPING in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-12-02 11:28
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An aerial view of shipping containers and freight railway trains at the BNSF Los Angeles Intermodal Facility rail yard in Los Angeles, California, US, Sept 15, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

US Senate lawmakers passed a bill Thursday to prevent a nationwide strike by railroad workers but didn't approve a separate measure that included additional paid sick leave that the workers wanted.

The legislation imposes an earlier agreement on more than 115,000 workers negotiated by the White House with unions. It required 60 votes, and passed 80-15, with Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul voting present.

President Joe Biden has said he is prepared to sign any resolution passed by Congress that prevents a strike.

"Working together, we have spared this country a Christmas catastrophe in our grocery stores, in our workplaces, and in our communities," Biden said in a statement after the Senate vote. "I know that many in Congress shared my reluctance to override the union ratification procedures. But in this case, the consequences of a shutdown were just too great for working families all across the country."

On Wednesday, House lawmakers passed two measures, one that would force the unions to implement a previously negotiated deal, and one that would give workers seven additional paid sick days.

The additional sick leave provision was added at the insistence of progressive House members who had threatened to block the rail agreement bill if additional sick days weren't included.

The agreement that the Biden administration helped negotiate earlier this year between the rail companies and top union leaders includes a 24 percent increase in wages from 2020 through 2024 and one additional paid day off on top of existing vacation and paid time off.

But some unions rejected it because they wanted additional paid sick days, setting up the threat of a rail worker strike as soon as Dec 9.

Senate lawmakers declined to include the additional sick days. The vote was 52 in favor to 43 against, short of the 60 needed to pass despite support from almost all Democrats and some Republicans.

In a statement Thursday, Republican senators Kevin Cramer of North Dakota and Cynthia Lummis said they supported forced adoption of the agreement to prevent a strike but they "cannot support an agreement that goes beyond what was negotiated by all parties and what was agreed to by union leadership".

Under the Railway Labor Act, Congress can make both sides accept an agreement to prevent economic harm.

A rail strike could have disrupted transport of 6,300 carloads of food and farm products a day, spiked prices and halted factory production, according to a collection of business groups.

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